When I was 21 I suffered a slipped disc in my lower back. I couldn’t sit down during the acute phase, only lie or stand, though standing itself was uncomfortable at the time. Once the acute phase had passed (with rest, although acupuncture and shiatsu are great), I had the fortune to meet some yoga teachers and I started going to their classes. I started out with Oki yoga, which is a Japanese form of yoga, and very good for healing the body.
I was given a series of correcting and strengthening exercises designed to improve my back and specific to the meridians that were in need of attention in my particular case. Oki yoga has postures classified on how they affect the meridians, which are like energetic pathways within our body. And that was the one thing that helped restore my back completely, to a state that was actually better than it was before I injured myself. When you are suffering an acute injury though, yoga really shouldn’t be attempted until that stage has passed.
That introduction to yoga ignited a deep love of it through which I began to see the more subtle health benefits it brought to my life. Yoga can help with a wide spectrum of physical issues and injuries, but it is also an excellent alternative to the gym for those that find the repetition and distraction of it not to their taste. It is great for toning up your body, whilst gaining flexibility.
Yoga has a reputation for flexibility, and deservedly so. But it can also develop strength. Developing strength is particularly important for women. Women tend to be more flexible than men, but not as strong, unless they have been involved in fitness regularly. But unlike many traditional forms of exercise, yoga also strengthens the inner muscles and organs in our bodies. It makes a great preparation for childbirth!
Yoga also develops discipline. This comes in making the time on a regular basis to either go to classes, or practice yoga in your living room, or in the morning sun in the garden. But there is a more subtle level of discipline. It starts with bringing your mind to focus on your breathing, and then feeling the effects of a posture on your body. This conscious exploration is quite a different experience of fitness than usually seen at the gym – where loud music, televisions and other external stimuli fight for your attention. You won’t see people with headphones on, or reading a magazine, whilst doing yoga.
This conscious exploration establishes a relationship with your body, and its importance cannot be overstated. So often, parts of us are frozen, or numb in some ways. This can express physically as pain, coldness, or stiffness. Energetically, it is as though despite trying to concentrate on an area, we just cannot feel connected to it.
In a more subtle way, when we feel the points of resistance within our body as we do a pose – when we breathe into that stiffness, and sometimes pain, we develop a resilience and mental fortitude. Yoga does, of course, help with concentration. But that process of releasing and going beyond the point of physical limitation is not limited to the body. It develops a quiet confidence and knowledge about one’s own capacity that is not held back by the boundaries we may have falsely believed about ourselves before. With a yoga practice, we can get back in touch with what yogi’s call our dharma, our purpose in life. And we find in ourselves, by virtue of our growing strength, the courage to follow that path.
And finally, a quote from a yoga teacher from Sydney, Australia, Eileen Hall, printed in the Australian Yoga Life magazine:
“Yoga is not about relaxation, it’s not about losing weight, it’s not about learning meditation. It’s about discovering the divine being within ourselves.”
- Yoga Journal, November 2005.
- Australian Yoga Life, Nov 2005 – Mar 2006.